How to Hire & Train Virtual Assistants

Colin and Brent discuss their failure to hire virtual assistants in the past and how they plan to do better next time.

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[00:00:00] Colin Keeley: Hello, and welcome back. This is Colin Keeley. Here

[00:00:03] Brent Sanders: And I'm Brent Sanders.

[00:00:05] Colin Keeley: we are two guys buying and building wonderful internet.

[00:00:09] Brent Sanders: Yes we are. And this week, Colin, we wanted to, talk through. Process of bringing on some, VA some additional help. This is something we've talked about. What, like two years or a year or two ago, I had an old podcast episode, when we first tried this and we've had mixed results in the past, and we're going to talk through what the approach is to getting somebody on and what we are hoping the results are like.

Cause. We've tried this three, this will be the third time. Third. Time's the charm. I'm hoping, but we've tried to do this, two other times and eventually let the person go and went our separate ways just because we either couldn't find enough valuable work for them to do, or, we just couldn't find a fit.

How would you describe our background around hiring VA's or even just admins?

[00:00:57] Colin Keeley: I've had a ton of success doing hourly work on Upwork for years. I've been doing that whenever I have a task that want to offload to someone. You're documented really well. But yeah, we've struggled with is hiring these full-time people and they never seem to work out. And ,  you asked one said, that was a good question.

, is it them, or are we just really bad at this? And I think the answer is maybe somewhere between which is just really frustrating. So we hired our own in the past with online jobs, that pH, which is like the best place to hire these folks.

Generally, if you want to do it yourself and these recent ones, the one we had to let go recently, and the new one that's coming on board we're from shepherd, which is like a basic. Placement agency or a searching agency that was started by Marshall hos, or they got the founder PL like an e-commerce guy.

And now it's a big team over there. I think he has a hundred folks work in and it seems to be working really well. And they'll go find you people that are, have good references, and they'd do the initial vetting and then they deliver you I'd say three to five candidates and then you interview them and bring them on board.

So our next one comes on board in two weeks.

[00:02:05] Brent Sanders: Okay. So the expectations. So I guess let's start with what are we hoping the outcome to be with this person is I think we both expect to. Lighten our load on the support front to help with document generation we've handful of processes that like, need to be run on a weekly basis, but also just things that are low-hanging that we haven't really done that we've been waiting to do such as, Getting all of our listings for our various product as corrected or updated and getting all of our screenshots for, we keep making changes to our products and the look and feel.

We want to update all of our screenshots. It's work that is valuable, but. Keep visiting ourselves with other things and putting it off. So I think that's one of the main things that, that I think from a like portfolio company perspective would be super helpful to just continue to update.

And then the other side of this is like generally the ops that we have that are ongoing, building email lists, building, doing the, as you're doing outreach, getting help there. And then also, doing that for our customers.

[00:03:09] Colin Keeley: Yeah, I would say if the goal is just to go find emails like that is the lowest cost person. This is more I don't know, premium work of sorts, like dealing with all our customer service and being able to do that stuff, which should pro like we are paying a significant premium over whatever, like the minimum person would be.

So this is maybe three times that as far as like hourly would go. The expectation here is that you could actually feel customer support requests and kind of step in for us this, so customer support on different, software products. And then on my end, dealing with all these emails, as I'm sending a bunch automatically to like founders and then dealing with their applies and like basically booking me meetings.

So I can focus on the, like the. High leverage activities of like actually talking to founders and less. So the back and forth of getting things scheduled.

[00:04:02] Brent Sanders: So working backwards from there. How do we train somebody? And I think that's what I wanted to talk about on the podcast is like, what have we done? That's worked, what are we doing? That has an, obviously we don't have a staff that, we don't have a crew of these people that have hung around.

We've eventually dwindled down. I would share my experience from, this was a separate business we were working on, but, we're having somebody doing both outreach, trying to have them do some writing, have them do a mix of, basically written work, beyond just, as you said, gathering emails, like it's not just robotic work.

We were trying to have them do, write blog posts. Let's use that as an example. Like how do you teach that? So obviously the person has to have written skills, but I think a big part of this is research. And where we failed in the past, I think is we got a poor product. We tried to provide feedback.

As in we got, let's say we got a blog post and it's oh, this makes no sense or this isn't correct. And so then we add feedback to it and the product doesn't improve. And so I think learning from the past is we would just throw our hands up and we're like, they can't write so well.

So let's find something else for them to do rather than. Having a training program or training materials for them. I think we, we did pay for some training, like self-serve training materials, but it wasn't like working alongside with us. So I would say like the first thing that I want to do on this time around is book more one-on-one time.

I think that's, That's been a real struggle because on one hand I've heard that, a lot of the VAs, they don't really want to be on the spot. They don't really want to be on a zoom meeting. They don't want to do a screen share. I've heard that feedback and this kind of goes in, in the face of that.

But I think that's the one thing I want to try this time is spend more time with this individual one-on-one, like doing tasks together. Building SOP is together. Rather than doing what we've been doing, it's like this, oh, here's a loom video. Go have fun and you get no questions. You never, you just get, thank you.

I'll take it on. And, they don't want to bug you. They don't want to ask you any questions. So that was the, one of the thing I wanted to try differently this time is books some, three sessions with each of us per, through the week, one hour sessions of, Hey, let's do work to get.

[00:06:10] Colin Keeley: Yeah, I think that's a good idea. So I want to go back to the one thing you said of teaching someone to write blog posts. And I think the reality is if you can't write, like that's not something we're going to be able to teach. So we really have to vet that upfront. So what I would say I vetted for this one is like customer service.

Do you have a customer service background? And then I talk with them in a video. And so most of these people were like customer service for T-Mobile or DirecTV or something like that. So it's a bunch of American companies that have their call centers over there. And then. Try to get a writing sample out of them.

So a lot of the writing is pretty robotic. Some of them are better writers. But besides that, it's really hard to interview these people cause they all have very similar backgrounds. So it's hard to separate them and be like this one's going to be good. A shepherd does the reference checks that they were like a good worker.

They stayed in their jobs for one. But yeah, really vetting the people, whether they've done that job before is probably the best way to do it. And then as far as like giving people directions, I think the SLPs are like the way to do it. Record the loom videos, have them document, like every step of the.

But maybe just like more bite-sized tasks, like just having them do one thing to start and really nailing down that one thing like, oh great. You can do customer service or blink sale. And that's like your job now. And then we'll layer on stuff like week by week and not dump a bunch on them, which is what I feel like I've done in the past.

Like here's 20 SLPs that I already created. Try to take this off my hands.

[00:07:38] Brent Sanders: Yeah. So moving step wise and incremental, I think that works where we bumped into the problems in the last two cases. And just to be fair, the first case we employed, Somebody for what was about six months. So she choose good, started progressing, but then we slowly started appealing tasks from her because she and I, and she, and the team decided, Hey, this isn't a good fit.

So then we ended up with nothing. She really wasn't. She was looking for more to do, and it just didn't necessitate full-time work. So we just slowly peeled stuff back. So as we're, it's always fun to get started rates. It's 90 days. All right. Here's something and they keep progressing and keep progressing.

So I, I think making sure that I think we should define. What they should do upfront versus fitting the role to them. And I think we did a good job of this on the most recent attempt, which was, we failed early. We like within 30 days or so, we're like, this is not working. They're not able to do the tasks.

We're not feeling like, work getting the support or they're even showing up to work. Those were the basics. Like we, we asked them to do us, participate in a standup. So I guess let's talk about. Just management, like management one-on-one I think is, is something worth doing, because I do put some of these, roles in kind of the backseat versus if we were to hire a six-figure salary developer and we would be spending a lot more time with that person.

We'd be, putting more time into making sure they're spending their time, in a productive way. The valuing the rural in the same way I think would help us. And so what I mean by that is like one-on-ones, as I was saying, doing, pairing work to some extent, but also like just the general, like check-ins learning about the person building culture.

I think that's really important. And it has been done in the past, but it's also been neglected a lot in the past. And I think we. We can win in that space because we care. Like we're not so busy that we can't spend time with this person and get to know them. There is a barrier though, right?

Have you noticed like this, there is much more of a formal structure there where it's you don't talk to your boss about your problems. You don't talk to your boss about non-work-related things like, I try to start meetings with some form of icebreaker, whether it's silly or trivial.

D just to get to know the person and, in those early stages, it's difficult to do. It's awkward. So it's like, what are other basic management things that, that you think we need to execute on in this.

[00:10:02] Colin Keeley: Yeah, that's tough. I think setting expectations early on, and that's what we found out the previous one, Hey, these are your working hours and up to work on time and do this daily check-in and I had to remind him so many times to do the daily check-in and that's the one thing that's required write these five sentences and what you're doing today.

And if you're not going to do that, I dunno, I feel like there's nothing we could do to improve beyond that. Or

[00:10:25] Brent Sanders: Yeah, that's a classic, by the way, like,

that's a classic, like developer, that's one thing from like the daily standup. It's we can't check the box. We can't show up to work on time. It's those are really good to ensure. I dunno, we talked about this before we were talking about jumping through hoops.

Like we need to have some hoops to jump through just to know that like they're going to be. There when we need them, the reliable there, they follow instructions. So part of that feels ridiculous, but also it's, if you can't make a stand up that this was my biggest thing from running an agency, if you can't make stand up, you can't work here.

If you can't come in reliably and there were some people that, just couldn't do it. And they needed to work a different style of job. They needed to go do freelance and they could stay up all night and work the hours they wanted. Yeah, I think being clear about that upfront and saying, Hey, this is really important to us.

And it shows us that, you're just doing the bare minimum. You're showing up and ready.

[00:11:22] Colin Keeley: Yeah. And then hours are another thing. So I don't know if I really care what hours you work, as long as you. Your hours done, but he kept saying he was going to start at this time and he just wouldn't like, he would start two hours later and be like, Hey, I thought you were working these hours. It was like, oh yeah, I am.

It's you're not, I know you're not a. So I like this one that we have upcoming, we basically said work our schedule, nine to five central time or Eastern time. I said central time. I, I'm not set on that, but I think it's easy. It's the easiest way for us to manage. And then he lives in Manila.

So one of the biggest cities of the biggest city in the field, And this is like a huge culture of working for American companies and working on their schedule. So bars are like 24 hours and, life kind of revolves around it. So it feels like an insane request to ask to work the night shift.

But apparently it's pretty standard over there.

[00:12:15] Brent Sanders: So I would say, yeah, first 90 days you gotta, it's really important that you show up on time. It's really important that you do some of these seemingly trivial tasks just to build confidence that we can count on you. Reliability is really important. Moving beyond that, how to deal with.

Improving the work is I think that's my biggest concern. One thing I want to be thoughtful of moving forward is like, how do we, we're going to ask him to do something. We're going to ask him to write a blog post. I'm sure. At some point, just to see, how's the writing, we talked about that.

It's okay, if you don't know how to write, or the writing comes off awkward, it's we're probably not going to be in a great position. To do it, but in terms of delivering feedback, I think, we have to be sensitive around it because again, there.

is, there are cultural differences, but there's, I think that the pitch here is that we're going to train you like DirecTV.

Doesn't give a shit about you. They just want you to. Do things the corporate way and they give you a big manual and learn the manual. But like we can offer something where you're going to get to work in different contexts and different technologies and, get your hands on things that a corporate entity would never let you do, which is probably indicative of.

Our size and state, but it's also, I think, a big career opportunity, to get your hands in other places. And I think that the only way that you can deliver on that pitch is for us to give our time. And so I think that's the one intent that I have going in is like creating, as many opportunities for them to learn, but at the same time, they're coming in as something to help us leverage.

And so I think. We just have to be ready to do that versus I think the knee-jerk reaction for this role, it's oh, what am I hiring this person for? We've got to spend all this time to then gain this leverage, which is, I think for that first, at least 90 days, I'd even say to 180 days, like they're not going to be able to really do anything to your standards unless you're willing to spend the time on attaining those standard.

[00:14:11] Colin Keeley: Yeah, I think it's a lot of upfront work for sure. As long as they get hit the basics, like I think as long as they could, speak fine and read, I don't see why in sharp to work on time. I don't see why they shouldn't be able to do all the tasks we're giving them.

[00:14:24] Brent Sanders: Let's walk through some of these tests. Cause I think there's the tasks that we want in there nuance. So let's just talk about support real quick. Can they respond to support requests? Yeah. I'm sure he'll be able to do that. If he can't do it, then Yeah, We've got a problem, but then there's support requests that are like, need to be escalated.

These are L two w we have a structure internally. There's like the O one, which is the layer. One of, Hey, I've got a question in his job will be to do that layer one support and say, Hey, I got your question. Looking into it. I can either answer it or escalate it to the next person, but they're there to just make sure that people know that we're Manning the phones.

And that's the other thing we want to set up a phone line. We love that idea, to support bill so they can just call. And even if that means we'll get back to you and call you back or email you back with an answer, like we just want there to be a responsiveness. The next layer is could they do L two support?

Could they start to learn the system and debug things and provide workarounds or whatever. And that's where I think the real value is. And so I think they all the tests that we're coming up with, I think we should develop layers to them of just like we do with support, where there's like beginner.

And then there's an intermediate where we want you to get to, and we want to see that progress and we want you to. Get into that role. And frankly, like I would love to build a pathway for this person to make more money because let's address the real, like elephant in the room. These roles, the reason we're doing it is a major cost driver.

The salaries, what roughly a thousand dollars a month is that right? Thousand to 1500.

[00:15:55] Colin Keeley: I was in, I actually got a bigger, a better view into how shepherded jacks, these people, and they basically know very little about our job description, but they know it's an American company and it's paying this like way above market wage. So a thousand dollars is you're getting the cream of the crop of people blind to this.

[00:16:11] Brent Sanders: Working with developers in the Philippines as they still demand, or can command if they're good, it doesn't matter. They still command like us, $75 an hour, $60 an hour, $40 an hour, which, on a full week can equate to much, much more than that. So I do think that there's an element of Hey, we can get you started at this.

And then if you can move into these, Layer two layer three, or level two intermediate and advanced tasks. Having a compensation structure that, that incentivizes that I think would also go a long way because if a thousand to $1,500, is the cream of the crop, then supporting and building on that, either. Incentivizing them to go beyond that. And I don't know if that's a big incentive for this culture, but I'd imagined it is when more money makes things easier, to be making $2,000 a month. I think if they can be doing more is definitely worth it. So I'm wondering, do we want to use that as a.

Or is it, the thing that I've heard is it's just like reliability. It's Hey, if you get to a certain point, we're going to guarantee your salary or guarantee your role for a year. And we're going to sign a year contract, something like that. But building upon just like the basics and in differentiating and doing a better job on our end. No, I think between you and I delivering work, it's we know that we're going to do our best. We know that we're going to deliver something that's of a certain standard, for anybody, even if we just hired somebody, US-based, it's hard to deliver those standards up front and say, Hey, this is how we want something to happen.

Because I think the type of work that we have, there's too many nuances. Do we critique the support messages. Do we critique. There are phone calls. It's I think we have to be ready to put that much time into it, but at the same time, trying to define what's the difference between beginner and intermediate is probably worthwhile to, for us to even just categorize the test and understand what do we consider, those different levels.

[00:18:02] Colin Keeley: Yeah, I think that's an interesting idea. So what they all say they want is stability and growth. And like on our end, I think nothing would make us happier than paying them more and keeping them around for 10 plus years.

[00:18:14] Brent Sanders: Yeah, for sure.

[00:18:16] Colin Keeley: That's completely our goal here. It just has not worked out that way at all so far.

So like customer support, I would say is like the biggest thing that we want taken over here. Trying to think how we get that to start working as quickly as possible. And the last guy was like, oh yeah, I'm studying a never drafted, like any responses. I wonder if we just throw them to the fire after some training and be like, Hey, just start drafting responses and you don't have to send them, we'll go through each one and give you feedback.

It's like a way to actually just start doing stuff and then just improve from there.

[00:18:50] Brent Sanders: Yeah, I like that

[00:18:51] Colin Keeley: and help scout, like just drafted and not send it. And then we can go back through and send them.

[00:18:58] Brent Sanders: Yeah. That's a great idea. And the other thing that I do like about this candidate that none of the other candidates has had, that makes me excited is that they're semi-technical, it sounds, we have technical products, we have one in particular. That's you need to know how networks and SSH and things. Behind the scenes work on a server. And so he, it sounds like he had some experience with setting up a gaming server, which I think checks all those boxes. But I'm excited to see if that may help us, sometimes like having more of a new. We're more specific, like domains of requests. We can offer more on the growth side, but also, communicate in a better way.

Versus I think with general support it's like anything in this product can go wrong versus giving them like a closed, problem set where it's like, it might be easier to work with that. looking at their previous. I think that was part of the problem is there's just like too much for them to even digest.

But to your point, they just have to jump in, having giving them the ability to say, Hey, when you're comfortable, go ahead and start responding, I think is a bad way to frame a request, which was how I framed it. Tim was very well when you're ready, to read all the, the docs and we had, if you recall, we do actually.

Customer support training docs and we do have, and so we have provided that stuff and they just got, I think, freaked out about it and was like, I just don't know. You receive more of this feedback than I did. I spent some time training and introducing this documentation and it sounded like he went to you and was like, I don't know.

I still.

[00:20:28] Colin Keeley: Yeah. I had a call with them just to check in. Cause I knew you guys were meeting and it was pretty clear that it was never going to happen. He just kept saying it's a lot, it's a lot. It was like, okay. some point you just have to be like, someone asks that you make an invoice, go figure out how to make an invoice.

And that's like the best way to learn anything is just to jump in. You could read books into that at a time. That's not a great way to do anything.

But feel good, optimistic about the next one is always the next one.

[00:20:51] Brent Sanders: Third, time's a charm. Yeah. I'm really hopeful that we can. We've built more infrastructure than in prior instances. And I think, going into this, just booking in expecting more time to be on our calendar with this person booking more time with them and trying to really invest in them, especially for the first months.

I think a we'll get a better sense of if they can hang and if they. If they're a good fit and if we get to a no, we get to it faster, but also just give them the support they need. I think that's the only thing I keep coming back to. It's just did we not support that person enough?

And it always comes back to, we just got busy with other more important things. The work that we're doing is, can always be kicked down the line and we can come back to it and cover it. But I think if we had an attitude, it's, you can't go back, like, you can't touch support.

This person has to do it. It might be the, just dive right in mentality,

[00:21:43] Colin Keeley: Yeah. I feel

[00:21:44] Brent Sanders: literally lock ourselves out.

[00:21:46] Colin Keeley: yeah, we could just take our names off the emails, and they only go to support at, and not ours, Colin or Brent out emails anymore. The one that, last time I felt like. Took the low hanging fruit of Hey, just go find emails. We want to go after these targets, go to that and eat it that well.

But it's, once again, we're hiring someone for three times the price to do more advanced stuff. And maybe I pushed for too long, like not to even attempt the advanced stuff. Just do the easy stuff.

[00:22:13] Brent Sanders: Yeah. Yeah. I think diving right in is the way to roll.

[00:22:15] Colin Keeley: Cool. Anything else you want to cover?

[00:22:19] Brent Sanders: No, I'm excited. To report back the updated. I'm excited to get into it. So they're going to start in two weeks,

[00:22:25] Colin Keeley: 10 days from now. Yeah.

[00:22:27] Brent Sanders: 10 days. All right. Hopefully we'll have them on and there'll be yucking it up on the podcast with us, feeling right at home. But until then we will update. I think this is a good way for us to sort out our thinking, but, we'll see how our revised approach goes.

[00:22:42] Colin Keeley: Yeah. Another idea for a task is like this podcast. We should just be able to hop on zoom and there's no reason that a VA shouldn't be able to edit it and get it out. So that would be another other thing to tackle.

[00:22:55] Brent Sanders: Exactly.

[00:22:56] Colin Keeley: Cool. Until next week, take care.

[00:22:59] Brent Sanders: Yeah. Thanks for listening.

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